July 27, 2011
At Nether Edge
Setola di Maiale SM 1560
Recorded by two ad hoc combos with different names, these releases actually each feature Sheffield-based multi-reedist Mick Beck, a different local guitarist and a third musician. That there is so much coherence in the playing despite On Stage being an out-and-out Free Jazz exploration and At Nether Edge more of a study in Free Music minimalism, is moreover a tribute to Beck’s talents and adaptability.
Initially a tenor saxophonist with the improvising big band Feet Packets, Beck has had long-time association with drummer Paul Hession and shorter collaborations with other local and international improvisers. Today he is as apt to be heard playing bassoon or whistles as the saxophone. This instrumental unconventionality is taken a step further on the Weavels’ CD, with the band otherwise consisting of Alex Ward’s guitar and Chris Cundy’s bass clarinet. Self-taught the bass clarinetist works in a variety of ad hoc situation as well as in a duo with pianist Pat Thomas. Equally proficient on clarinet, Ward is part of a singer/songwriter duo as well as working in improv situations with drummer Steve Noble and bassist John Edwards among others. Similarly, Jonny Drury, Blistrap’s Sheffield-based guitarist, is self-taught, with his collaborators ranging from improvisers to outside rockers such as Genesis P-Orridge. Swiss-born, Pordenone-based drummer Stefano Giust completes the band. With, like Drury, an interest in electro-acoustics, the drummer has worked with the likes of saxophonist Gianni Gebbia, and cellist Tristan Honsinger.
This electronic influence is obvious on the three extended improvisations that make up On Stage; so is what can be termed Giust’s overt Italianism. What that means is that at points during the performances it appears that the percussionist can restrain himself no longer and begins enthusiastically shouting, joined by verbal elucidation from the other as well. Not only is the outcome boisterous, but it’s also profoundly non-Anglo-Saxon.
Similarly non-phlegmatic and unrestrained is the trio’s playing. On tenor on the first track for instance, Beck creates a montage of multiphonic overblowing, rugged slurs, horking honks and Aylerian puffs. These are met by ruffs and drags plus ratcheting cymbal slaps from the drummer and an undertow of splayed flanges and oscillated amplifier-pushed pulsations from the guitarist. As the church-bell-like chiming from Giust mixes it up with slashing licks from Drury, Beck, unfazed, brings out his slides whistles for passages that sound like a child chortling then bites hard on his sax reed for altissimo squeals. A subsequent drum-led turn to straight time relaxes the tension.
Although the noise from a nearby radio or TV broadcast eventually leaks into the free-form wall-of-sound, the more-then-half-hour final track is even more spectacular. Drury’s slack-key-like exposition quickly melds with diaphragm vibratos from Beck and Giust’s pops and clicks, eventually creating a collection of mutual protoplasmic wiggles upon which the saxophonist deposits honks slurs and cistern-draining staccato bites. While the drummer’s speedy, but irregularly spaced pops and drags, involve all three in thick Energy Music, this concentrated mass is frequently interrupted by guitar reverb and striated reed notes. Midway though, the guitarist’s extruded tones meet the reedist’s ghost notes and pitch vibrations. Resolution finally arrives when saxophone’s chromatic tongue-stopping and lip-burbling plus the guitarist’s country-styled but linear finger-picking join Giust’s irregular patterning for climatic cacophony.
Insect music consisting of unconnected timbres and scattered tones is a clichéd description of the British branch of EuroImprov. However on At Nether Edge, recorded a year earlier than On Stage, the Weavels make a conscious effort to avoid emphasizing singular sounds. Additionally attempts are made to avoid the nether edges as well. Each player gets a solo track, with Beck’s the most noteworthy, as he spins his tones into a near-scherzo of deconstructed squeaks, reed bites and body tube rustling.
Still the Weavels’ watchword is textural collaboration, not blustering bravado. On “Sheep” for instance, Cundy’s slippery contralto lines intersect with pedal-point bassoon slurs on top of methodical strums from Ward. As the strings create a rhythmic bottom, the reeds tongue slap, snort, quack and finally harmonize in coloratura (clarinet) and chalumeau (bassoon) tones. Before disrupting their interaction with contrasting aviary cries, Beck manages to work in blurry slide whistle shrills and clown-horn-like beeps.
Further notable cooperation is demonstrated on “Geese” – is there an anthropomorphic theme here? As Ward decorates the theme with staccato plinks and plunks, Cundy and Beck delineate separate reed paths. Moving from flat-line respiration to overblowing and tongue-fluttering the clarinetist stakes out a territory that is easily separated from the bassoonist’s. Beck’s timbres dynamically evolve from lyrical burbling to short bursts of pressurized air, attaining sequences of pedal-point snorts that could come from a hippo lolling contentedly. Segmenting his mellow growls with the odd slide whistle shriek, the bassoonist helps make the piece’s final variant polytonal as the guitarist’s top-of-neck staccato strokes and the bass clarinetist’s snorts and tongue stops reach satisfying counterpoint.
Take your pick – or sample both – of the trios which create memorable Free Music here. Not surprisingly, it seems, the bonding factor is Beck’s matchless skill with saxophone, bassoon and most anything else he can put in his mouth.
Track Listing: Edge: 1. Geese 2. You’ll wake the Children 3. Weather Report 4. Term Time 5. Half Drawn Eye 6. Sheep
Personnel: Edge: Chris Cundy (bass clarinet); Mick Beck (bassoon and whistles) and Alex Ward (guitar)
Track Listing: Stage: 1. Untitled improvisations, Live @ The Klinker, London 2. Untitled improvisations _ Live @ Noise Upstairs, Manchester 3. Untitled improvisations, Live @ Grind Sight Open Eye, Edinburgh,
Personnel: Stage: Mick Beck (tenor saxophone, balloons and whistles); Jonny Drury (guitar and electronics) and Stefano Giust (drums, cymbals and objects)